- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Democratic D.C. leaders had harsh words Tuesday for Republican lawmakers seeking to overturn a local law that would allow some terminally ill adults to end their lives.

At a Capitol Hill press conference, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton stressed that the law is a local matter on which lawmakers “heard debate from both sides of this issue.”

“After hearing debate, the elected D.C. Council passed the Death with Dignity Act by a vote of 11-2, and the elected D.C. mayor signed it. That should have ended the matter, as it would in any other jurisdiction in the United States,” said Ms. Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city is seeking “equal treatment” by federal lawmakers, citing the oft-referenced statistic that the District pays more in federal taxes than 22 states yet has no vote in Congress.

This week, Rep. Jason Chaffetz will start the process of repealing the Death with Dignity Act, which the city enacted in November. Mr. Chaffetz, Utah Republican, chairs the House committee that oversees the District.

Six states — California, Colorado, Montana, Washington, Vermont and Oregon — have similar laws on the books.

At the press conference, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said personal feelings about the bill should not prompt members of Congress to interfere in the District’s laws whenever they feel like it.

“This isn’t about the substance of the bill; it’s about process,” Mr. Mendelson said Monday. “This is not a federal issue.”

He outlined the care the council took to hear all sides of the issue, which he acknowledged was complex and controversial. He mentioned that the bill took nearly two years to make its way through the council and that about 70 public witness came out to speak about the measure.

“Congress has not had the benefit of that testimony,” Mr. Mendelson said.

Congress has several ways to affect D.C. laws. The most common has been to withhold funds for certain programs. Under the Home Rule Act, the District can draw up and approve its own budget, which also must be approved by Congress in the federal appropriations bill.

However, the tack Mr. Chaffetz is taking is the most direct way but also has been the least successful: Congress has 30 days to review to review any law the city enacts. If the House and the Senate pass a joint resolution of disapproval and the president signs it within the review period, the law is nullified.

Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, and Rep. Brad R. Wenstrup, Ohio Republican, this month introduced the resolutions of disapproval. The measure first must pass the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee before the full House and Senate can vote on it. The committee will mark up the resolution Thursday.

Only three disapproval resolutions have passed since home rule was instituted in 1973.

Ms. Norton acknowledged that it is a foregone conclusion that the Republican-led House will approve the resolution. She said the best shot to stop Congress from overturning the law is to persuade the Senate to block the resolution.

She said Congress meddles in the District’s business only “for ideological reasons when it disagrees with legislation” instead of out of some constitutional obligation.

But the reasons for trying to overturn the District’s law don’t matter much, since Congress has direct authority over the city, said Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

“It’s very clear and one-sided. Constitutionally, Congress holds all the cards,” Mr. Olson said in an interview. “Congress has the power. The GOP will say they get to make sure the District doesn’t stray too far from the values of the people back home. It’s a power that Congress guards jealously, no matter how small it seems to the rest of the country.”

Asked how the move to block a local law corresponds with the conservative principle of a small federal government and more power for local governments, Mr. Olson said Republicans have put more personal issues ahead of localism.

“If it’s a contradiction, it’s one they learned to live with long ago,” he said. “When it comes to where they rank that compared with other issues that move them more personally, home rule is seldom first.”

Mr. Chaffetz’s office did not return calls for comment.

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

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